A*Star scientist’s protest over bond sparks outcry

BY AMELIA TENG, Straits Times

THE scientist and dancer who is protesting against her six-year scholarship bond has been widely criticised for her actions.

Dr Eng Kai Er, 30, who is serving her bond to the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) by studying infectious diseases at one of its research institutes, had claimed that her job was “not aligned with her interests”. As a mark of protest, she set up a “grant” to give $1,000 a month from her salary to support arts projects for a year.

She has started giving away the grant amid widespread disapproval since The Straits Times reported on her protest last week.

Dr Eng has served two years of her six-year bond to A*Star for two scholarships – one for undergraduate studies at Britain’s Cambridge University and the other for a PhD in infection biology at Swedish medical university Karolinska Institute.

It is believed she has tried, but failed, to transfer her bond to the National Arts Council (NAC).

This newspaper received several letters and about 1,000 comments, likes and shares on its Facebook page about the story.

Most people felt that Dr Eng’s actions smacked of a sense of entitlement and ingratitude.

Dr Lee Hock Seng wrote: “Scholarship holders are very fortunate people who (are) given financial support by their fellow citizens to further their studies, in view of their desire, commitment and potential capability to serve as leaders in specific fields.

“Not keeping their end of the bargain after completing their studies is not merely a breakdown of a transaction between the scholarship holder and the Government, but also a grave affront to the trust, honour and respect we reserve for recipients who serve our society humbly and dutifully.”

Mr George Er posted: “Why deprive others who deserve the scholarship more and who are willing to serve? Spending so many years graduating and then sweeping it off as ‘not my interest’?”

Some, like Mr Loh Wai Poon, wondered why Dr Eng accepted a second scholarship in science if she was not interested in the field.

He wrote: “When she took the first scholarship, she might (have been) unsure of what she wanted, but to take up a second scholarship in science, which now she says she hates, is just incredible.”

Many people said she ought to serve the full bond at A*Star before changing her profession. A 27-year-old scholarship holder,who is serving a four-year bond at a ministry, said: “It is good that she is putting aside her salary to support what she is passionate about. But she still has a responsibility to commit to the bond.”

A 30-year-old former scholarship holder, who left a statutory board in 2010 after serving 11/2 years of his six-year bond and paying for the rest of it, said: “She signed a legal binding contract.

“There is really no basis for her to transfer to NAC when it is so unrelated. I empathise with her, but she has to live up to the agreement. You have to be a responsible adult.

“There is no point condemning her. Many young people sign bonds blindly because they want to go overseas and study.”

Dr Eng, meanwhile, has given her first No Star Arts Grant to Mr Andrew Chan, who is openly gay, to hold a wedding by this month.

She wrote that the grant supports Mr Chan “in his belief that everyone has the right to experience a wedding”.

The second grant has gone to artist Loo Zihan for his production to reinterpret a 1999 stage monologue by the late Paddy Chew, the first person here to go public about having the human immunodeficiency virus.

Attempts to reach Dr Eng and both recipients yesterday were unsuccessful.

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